Thousands more flee as volcano eruptions intensify in Sumatra

Mount Sinabung spewing ash, as seen from the nearest village in Karo district, North Sumatra province, yesterday. The volcano rumbled back to life in 2013, after a period of inactivity, and erupted violently over the weekend.
Mount Sinabung spewing ash, as seen from the nearest village in Karo district, North Sumatra province, yesterday. The volcano rumbled back to life in 2013, after a period of inactivity, and erupted violently over the weekend.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

JAKARTA - More than 10,000 villagers have fled a rumbling volcano in western Indonesia this month, most in recent days after a series of violent eruptions.

The authorities raised the alert status of Mount Sinabung, on Sumatra island, to the highest level at the start of this month after detecting a sharp increase in activity.

The volcano, which came back to life two years ago after a period of inactivity, erupted violently over the weekend, spewing hot ash and rocks high into the air.

TOO DANGEROUS FOR RESIDENTS TO STAY

We could still feel tremors. Ash 1mm to 2mm thick covered roads and homes located 15km away.

It could take weeks before it eases but, for now, it is dangerous for people living nearby, so we have recommended for them to evacuate.

- Mr Armen Putra, head of the volcano observation post

Sinabung - which killed 16 people in a fierce eruption last year - continued to belch out a thick plume of smoke high into the sky yesterday, covering homes far away with a coating of ash.

About 7,500 residents have been evacuated from their villages following the weekend eruptions, said disaster agency official Tri Budiarto.

They "left their homes on motorcycles, in cars and on military trucks. They were from six villages located

in the danger zone, around the south and south-east of the volcano", he said.

Several thousand people fled their homes at the start of the month when the alert status was raised and the total number of evacuees now stands at 10,714, said the disaster agency.

Mr Armen Putra, head of the volcano observation post, said yesterday: "We could still feel tremors. Ash 1mm to 2mm thick covered roads and homes located 15km away.

"It could take weeks before it eases but, for now, it is dangerous for people living nearby, so we have recommended for them to evacuate."

After Sinabung rumbled back to life in 2013, more than 10,000 people fled from nearby villages.

Some residents have returned home, but more than 6,000 of the original evacuees are still living in shelters.

The volcano has also had a devastating economic impact, with the disaster agency estimating that it caused more than US$100 million (S$135 million) in damage last year and in 2013 in a broad range of areas, including infrastructure, farming and tourism.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2015, with the headline 'Thousands more flee as volcano eruptions intensify in Sumatra'. Print Edition | Subscribe